How long can a solar charger keep you juiced up in the dullest UK weather? I put one to the test

The Jackery Solar Generator 500 claims to be a complete off-grid solution that’ll power your devices wherever you happen to be. Can it deliver?

Jackery Solar Generator 500
(Image credit: Mark Mayne)

This test is entirely unfair on the Jackery Solar Generator 500... or indeed any other solar generator, as it was done in the UK in March. A time with little, if any, actual sunshine. Really it's unreasonable to expect a solar generator to keep your devices powered up when the sun isn't even out... or is it? That's exactly what I put to the test for this article. 

First things first though – what is the Jackery Solar Generator 500? In short, it's one of the best solar chargers on the market right now, comprising a 100W solar panel that clamshells open to receive the sun’s goodness, and a chunky but almost-portable powerpack. The latter has more than a little of the 'emergency car-jumper pack' look to it, including a small lamp set into one end. You'll find more info in my Jackery Solar Generator 500 review, but for this test I set out to see just how long I could eke out a full battery with solar top-ups as and when possible. 

Firstly it’s a matter of charging up the main battery pack, which comes in a well-insulated, cool bag-style caddy, presumably to minimise loss of charge due to cold temperatures, like those you’ll find in most camping situations. Unlike most camping situations, there’s also a beefy mains power adaptor, which I take full advantage of to get to 100% full. The first task is to boost a drained action camera (the Insta360 One RS in fact), which is well within the capabilities of the Jackery Solar Generator 500. A USB connected to the central bank of three USB sockets on the pack, and immediately I'm charging – a process that takes no longer than it would with a standard USB charger. 

Jackery Solar Generator 500

(Image credit: Mark Mayne)

That fact is because this is no small-time battery pack, firing out an impressive 518Wh (21.6V, 24Ah) from the Li-ion NMC cells inside. The big clue that this is on the chunky side is the standard three-pin UK power outlet to the left of the USB ports on the front of the pack. 

It’ll run any appliance that has a 500W demand, up to a 1000W surge peak, which covers off a huge range of home items, fans, blenders, fridges... even medium-size TVs. It’ll power a Samsung projector with aplomb, or a Macbook, both of which I task it with to see what happens (charge drops to 70% under this onslaught, but not much else). 

Even in overcast conditions, plugging in the 100W panel, flipping the legs out and opening the clamshell makes an immediate difference. The display monitors a trickle of inbound charge – 10/15 Watts in totally overcast conditions, spiking to 35W in occasional bursts of sunshine. In context, that’s enough to more than cover a standard USB charge port at the lower end, and enough for three USBs at the upper end, or a single Macbook Air. 

Plugging and charging in the projector, Macbook, two action cameras and a smartphone does outpace the solar cells in this feeble, intermittent spring sunshine, but not dramatically so. Indeed, the Jackery Solar Generator 500 is pretty much keeping pace with demand, hindered by the amount of actual sun available. In full summer sun 

I was easily able to run a day’s hardware from the Jackery Solar Generator 500, which the numbers say should easily be possible. In full summer sun the panel would be more than capable of running a small office around the clock, with entertainment laid on too. The only real problem are that the system isn’t enormously portable, and it’s not waterproof. The latter means you’ll need to set it up each time you need it, and the former means that you’ll not want to venture far from the car to do so. That said, as a reliable basecamp power source for multiple devices, or for operating a mobile office post-apocalypse, it’s a winner.

Mark Mayne

Mark Mayne has been covering tech, gadgets and outdoor innovation for longer than he can remember. A keen climber, mountaineer and scuba diver, he is also a dedicated weather enthusiast and flapjack consumption expert.